In 1945 the Second World War ended, the next thirty years were to see rapid
disintegration of the European empires and the creation of many new independent
states. This essay will attempt to understand for what reasons the Great Britain
and France decolorized, and the effects this Decolonization had for those
At the beginning of end of the Second World War Britain had the largest
empire, which spanned the whole of the globe. But in the next thirty years this
was dramatically reduced in size. The first country to seek independence from
Britain at the end of the Second World War was India. India was seen as the
“Jewel in the crown” of the British Empire and was of key significance to
Britain. The Indian desire to decolorize had gather momentum at the end of the
First World War and by the beginning of the Second World War Britain was forced
to recognize Indian independence in return for her support in the Second World
At the end of the Second World War a Labor government came to power in
Britain. They had a different outlook upon the issue of Decolonization. Whereas
the conservative government before them were unwilling to decolorize India the Labor
government supported Decolonization in the right circumstances. The
reasons for this policy were their disapproval of the exploitation of the
Indians and also the fact that Britain could not afford to keep India.
However there were a number of problems with decolorizing India the major one
of which was the religious hostilities that existed between the Hindus and the
Muslims. The two religions could not agree on the federal system of government
so it was decided that there should be a partition of India. This would create a
new independent state Pakistan.
The British method of partition was to set a date for British withdrawal
1947, and then work up until this date to achieve a peaceful partition. When the
partition was created making India a Hindu state and Pakistan a Muslim state
many people found themselves in the wrong area and there was a lot of mass
movement of people between the two areas. The method with which Britain decolorized
India met respects worldwide and was regarded as the best way to decolorize.
With India’s declaration of independence it became apparent that it was
only a matter of time before Britain's other colonies demanded their own
independence. By 1957 only two of Britain's colonies in Africa had gained their
independence they were the Gold Coast and Sudan. The rest were to quickly
receive their independence between 1957 and 1964.
The characteristics of these independences were the methods with which they
carried out by the British. They followed the same plan in each colony, which
was to prepare the colony for self-rule by training people for the new positions
within government and in other sectors which the British settlers had dominated
in. This meant the new independent country would be able to support herself. It
also meant that the likely hood of a power vacuum would be reduced after the
The British Prime Minister captured the mood of the age with his speech made
whilst on a visit to South Africa in 1960 in which he commented “The wind of
change is blowing through Africa and whether we like it or not, this growth of
political consciousness is a fact.” This speech showed that the Labor Government was perfectly aware that they could not keep their African colonies
forever because of the increased political realization on the part of the
France was another great imperial power who decolorized after the Second
World War although her reasons and methods were quite different from Britons.
Unlike Britain France had been occupied during the Second World War and a number
of her colonies had also they meant they had a different view on the colonies.
Whereas the British realized the colonies were beginning to become a burden they
French believed they had to re-assert their national prestige by keeping control
of their colonies.
This may explain why the French experience of Decolonization was so different
to Britain's. French Decolonization was bloody and bitter whereas Britain's was
quite peaceful and quite painless. France fought two costly and bloody wars over
The first of these was in Indo-China, which had been under French rule since
the 19th Century. During the Second World War with France occupied
the French colonies were open to attack and Indo-China was invaded and occupied
by the Japanese. During this time a group called the Vietminh led by Ho Chi Minh
fought a guerrilla war against the Japanese.
At the end of the Second World War the French intended to retake control of
Indo-China but before they could the Vietminh declared independence. Fighting
broke out in 1946 and continued for eight years before the French suffered a
massive defeat at Dien Bien Phu. This was the decisive point of the war with an
armistice being signed soon after. France had lost much in the war including
91,000 men and their colony.
France’s African Empire started to decolorize after the humiliating defeat
at Dien Bien Phu as riots spread across the French African states. France realized
she could not hold her empire together anymore and begun decolorizing.
All the French African colonies were granted their independence between 1956 and
1960 with the exception Algeria.
Algeria held a unique place within the French Empire as it had been formally
integrated into France thus making it not a colony but a part of France itself.
At the end of the Second World War the Arab majority of Algeria who had
experienced no political rights in the past were promised a full share of
political rights. The French speaking settlers and their descendants the Colons
met this with opposition.
Frustration at the lack of progress towards political reforms an armed
rebellion led by the F.L.N. (Front d’Liberation National) begun in 1954. The
war was bloody and a one point threatened to cause civil war in France as the
right wing military officers threatened to stage a coup d’etat against the
government if they agreed to Algerian independence. This was due to the sense on
the armies part that they had a duty to maintain the French rule in Algeria
after the humiliation of Dien Bien Phu and the Decolonization.
In 1958 General de Gaulle was persuaded to come out of retirement to end the
conflict in Algeria. Initially French nationalists who believed he would not
give Algeria independence greeted him. But De Gaulle realized that France could
not win the war and that it would be a major strain on the economy to continue
it. He begun talks for independence and he and the F.L.N. leader signed a
settlement in 1962.
The major differences between the British and French Decolonization was the
method with which they were carried out. The British accepted that they could
not keep control of their colonies indefinitely and therefore went about trying
to give them independence. The French on the other hand refused to give their
colonies independence easily and there had to be major bloodshed before they
would consider it.
In conclusion it can be said that Decolonization occurred for a number of
different reasons. These reasons included they cost of maintaining colonial ties
with countries out weighed the benefits of those ties. This was realized by
Britain soon after the war but wasn’t realized by France until De Gaulle came
back into power in 1958. Another reason for Decolonization was the people in the
colonies. These people were demanding their own independence and this was the
reason for giving it to them.
The outcomes for the former colonies were mixed many were unprepared for
independence and suffered many changes in government from democracy to military
dictatorship. However there were some India is one example which prospered
through independence. The outcome of the colony seems to have depended greatly
on the way in which they were decolorized. As has been mention before India
prospered from independence whereas Indo-China particularly Vietnam spent many
years at war with the USA after the were granted independence.